Rethink the classics
Traditional elements with tongue-in-cheek flair form the backbone of Vanessa De Vargas’s style. In her tiny 500-square-foot bungalow in Venice, California, the owner of the eight-month-old Turquoise furniture showroom displays a charmingly off-kilter approach to decorating that gives formal pieces a fresh and modern look. “I love mixing new and vintage, classic and ornate,” De Vargas says. “It can be a little glam, a little midcentury ― it’s how you put it together that makes it work.”
In her living room, a sofa with plush upholstery and conventional lines allows for more unusual accents: a faux-ostrich-hide coffee table with transparent acrylic resin legs, and a pair of Chinese-inspired vintage chairs given new life with a coat of black lacquer. “Adding lacquer is one of my favorite ways to update older pieces,” De Vargas says. (A mahogany side table next to the sofa underwent a similar treatment in black gloss.) The white shag rug adds textural depth to the room.
The compact entry space, featuring two ottomans upholstered in quilted chinoiserie toile, is another example of her perfectly calibrated eye. “I brought in a little color with the lamps, a little pattern with the ottomans, an ornate touch with the mirror, and balanced it all with the minimal, streamlined console table,” she says.
Be disciplined with color
The only hard-and-fast design rule De Vargas follows is to use a pared-down palette. “Consider the colors you love and pick two to play with,” she suggests. “In my case, they were red and gray. Then accent with one or two more hues for contrast.” She cautions against going overboard with too many disparate shades. “You don’t want to take away the impact of a piece; think about showcasing it in the best possible way.”
Wallpaper is one of the simplest methods of bringing punch to a small space. De Vargas recommends finding vintage remnants on eBay and turning them into the focal point of a room ― behind a headboard or sofa, for instance. Her dining area features a chinoiserie pattern framed with black molding from a hardware store and hung against a more somber gray wall. Louis XV reproduction chairs echo the baroque mood, but are upholstered in black faux-ostrich hide for a contemporary feel. The 1960s Burke tulip table adds lightness to the mix. Embellish mass-market pieces
The most refreshing aspect of De Vargas’s decor is her use of affordable basics. “I love adapting something inexpensive and making it look rich,” she says. The drapes in her dining area are from Ikea, customized with a ribbon border; the Ikea pillowcases on her bed are embroidered with her initials. Perhaps her favorite piece of all is a birch Ikea armoire in the bedroom that she turned into a showpiece (she painted it black, glued on high-contrast white trim, and added stick-on mirrored transparent acrylic resin handles).
De Vargas’s transformation of a cramped bungalow into an opulent home is worthy of her design idol, iconic 20th-century decorator Dorothy Draper. “She was from the glamorous Hollywood era. Her work was classic, but she always added her own original twist,” De Vargas says. It’s a design tradition made anew for the 21st century.
Info, Design: Turquoise (closed Mon; 1641 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice, CA; 310/314-2010). Vanessa De Vargas also writes a blog and contributes to Apartment Therapy.
Resources: Vitten rug ($149) and Ritva curtains ($30 for pair) from Ikea. Ottoman with transparent acrylic resin legs and red tray from Jordan Cappella Collection (310/625-0822). Bird salt and pepper shakers in chartreuse from Jonathan Adler ($48; 800/963-0891). Paint in Anonymous from Behr (item 780F-5; 877/237-6158).